Do the work, do it hard, and the results will come—right? If only it were that simple. What you do in the gym and how well you fuel your body are both crucial. But thinking your duties end there misses one of the great overlooked truths of the fitness world: The harder you work, the more you need to recover.
Lack of recovery doesn't take long to show its effects, either. It's a creeping feeling that makes you struggle harder than usual to achieve optimal intensity in the gym. Even worse, you may have to take more time off before you train again. Sure, you can "push through" and try to be a hero while in a recovery deficit, but you simply won't do as much quality work as you could otherwise. In other words, get ready to plateau!
Unfortunately, there's more to recovery than simply not training. It's an art—and one you need to take as seriously as your training! If you want to recover like a pro, learn from the pros. Here's how Cellucor's athletes rock their recovery.
Lock Down Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition
Getting your nutrition in line throughout the day is a no-brainer if you have lofty physique goals. But a small library's worth of research has shown that what you take in before and after training is of particular importance, especially when you're training hard. Nail this, and it'll have a direct positive impact on your workout quality—and just as importantly, your ability to recover and get ready to do it again tomorrow.
"Paying attention to what you eat before and after you train is crucial to recovery," says Karina Baymiller, a Cellucor athlete who has competed both as a powerlifter and in physique-focused events. "I suggest aiming for 25-40 grams of protein before and after training, along with roughly 50 percent of your daily carbohydrate intake, split into 25 percent before and 25 percent after your training to rebuild and replenish glycogen stores."
Need it in an even simpler formula? Here you go, in six words: Protein and carbs, pre and post. Don't be afraid to really put in a good dose of carbs at this time. It's when your body needs it most and will use it toward building lean muscle mass.
Make Time for Massage
How do you reward yourself? If you're pro physique competitor Craig Capurso, the answer is a single word: massage! Athletes of all varieties have known for decades how the simple act of lying on a table and having someone work on your muscles can have a night-and-day transformative effect when it comes to recovery. Try it once and you might get hooked—which Capurso says is a good thing.
"Regular massages can aid your body in the repair process," he explains. "Many times, we have knots and muscles that are sore. With the help of a massage, we can reduce the time it would take for those knots to go away by themselves. Not to mention it can help increase blood flow and help you relax. Plus, it just feels too damn good not to do!"
But what kind should you get? Capurso enjoys both deep tissue as well as a sports massage on a regular basis, trying to go weekly as part of his total-body maintenance plan. If you're worried about the expense, make full use of the online coupon sites.
Get Foam Rolling
"Foam rolling isn't just to help you prepare for your training," explains fitness model and online coach Jen Jewell. "Take it from me: It can also do wonders for your recovery! Even just a few minutes post-workout can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness."
If you don't have time to roll in the gym, another option is to use a roller or lacrosse ball at home at night, such as while you're watching TV. Spend about five minutes slowly hunting out hot spots or "trigger points" and camp out on them for at least 20-30 seconds. Just don't expect it to be fun.
If you've been skeptical about foam rolling up until now, the time has come to embrace it. The research hasn't yet been able to pinpoint exactly how foam rolling does great stuff like increase range of motion and decrease muscle soreness, but it's been pretty clear that it does! So don't question it. Just do it.
Start Your Day Right
If you've tried three-time Mr. Universe Calum von Moger's Bodybuilding.com video workouts like the 20-minute Chest Blast, Delt Demolition, or the Armed and Ready Workout, you already know that the routines themselves are just the beginning of the pain. It's not uncommon for people to be sore for two or three days after trying them!
Some of this pain is inevitable, but some of it can be helped with a little nutritional pre-hab in the form of amino acids. Research has shown that taking a healthy blast of BCAAs before training can help cut down on post-exercise muscle soreness, but here's the key: It has to be before you train! They're not pain pills.
When von Moger has a tough workout on the schedule, he starts preparing from the moment he wakes up. "I have amino acids along with glutamine first thing in the morning so that I'm primed for the day," he says.
Plan Your Rest Days
Are you someone who only takes a rest day when you really need one? If so, the quality of your work in the gym is probably suffering, even if you don't know it. Hitting it hard two or three days in a row takes a serious toll, which is why Jewell schedules her rest days into her program—and then takes them seriously!
"Take at least one—and maybe even two or three—rest days each week," she advises. "I know this is something that many of us who love to be active and train all the time hate to hear, but a rest day or two will do the body good."
For instance, the Cellucor Built by Science Six-Week Muscle-Building Trainer features two rest days per week, on which you're encouraged to make use of several of the other techniques highlighted here.
Don't believe that your rest day has to be totally sedentary, either. Going for a walk on your off-day can further help your muscles and nervous system bounce back from the beating you give them in the gym. "Instead of hitting the gym, go for a leisurely hike outside or take the kids to the park," Jewell advises. "Do something fun and make it an active rest day."
Snack on Protein Between Meals
Increasing protein intake is a tried-and-true method of both boosting recovery and maximizing results from strength training. However, as many athletes have discovered, it's really hard to get adequate amounts of this muscle-building macronutrient on a traditional meal schedule. What to do? According to von Moger, you should rethink the way you snack.
"I recommend having 20-25 grams of protein in between your meals as well," he says. "You need extra protein to recuperate properly, so it makes perfect sense have a shake or an extra chicken breast halfway between two of your meals."
Those who are strength training regularly should be aiming for around one gram of protein per pound of body weight. If your training is particularly intense or happens as often as 4-5 times a week, you may need even more.
Add an Hour to Your Night
If you're doing all these things and still struggling to recover between workouts, the answer is probably right in front of you: More pillow time! The harder you work, the more you need to sleep. Don't expect your nutrition to take care of this for you!
"I always aim to get at least 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night," von Moger says. "If you can't do that, at least find some time throughout the day to put your legs up and relax."
You may think you don't have time for more sleep than you're getting now, but I can almost guarantee there's some serious time-wasting that happens between dinner and lights out.
Just give it a try for one month when you know you'll be training hard. It can be eye-opening to see what just an extra hour of shut-eye will do!